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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
How Arnor managed to hold off The Witch King for so long?
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Jan 10 2018, 1:08am

Post #26 of 30 (721 views)
What a knife [In reply to] Can't Post

*shrugs* That is much the argument my erstwhile friend made then, and I would be the last to doubt that it has some validity, but then you must explain the "breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will," sinews is plural, as you are careful to point out. A single spell that knit his plural sinews to his singular will would imply that if that single spell were broken, all the sinews would be let loose. But, as I say, I don't insist on it. But it does explain, at least to me, how an undead nagul would be totally dicombobulated by a single knife stroke, so as to let a crippled girl decapitate him.
The further argument that the W-K was dead already and Eowyn's stroke was merely a fillip, I hold no brief for.

We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior! Well, yeah, first he killed a bunch of us and another whole lot of Mauhr's lads, and we had to shoot enough arrows into him to drop a Mmak. But we got him!


Jan 10 2018, 1:58am

Post #27 of 30 (718 views)
I broke the law that keeps the cars on the right side of the road. [In reply to] Can't Post

Therefore, by driving in the other roadway I caused all other cars to feel free to do the same, and they did. Total traffic chaos ensued across the nation.

Or not. Probably not. Certainly not.

No, it's not an exact analogy, but I mean to show that this question comes down to general vs. specific classes and terms - in context. Is a proposed paralysis implied by any of the language of the passage? Words like stiff, motionless, unable, struck still, motionless, frozen, or blocked? But as you say, this is the kind of thing that's rather fruitless to insist on.

What are the odds that a woman's sword could in a single stroke decapitate a flying creature large enough to carry a man? Why did her sword, plunged into the void between his crown and his neck space, cause his body to dissolve completely so the robes collapsed empty to the ground? Is it relevant that the hobbit meets the ancient prophecy to the same degree that the woman does, that the Nazgul will fall 'not by the hand of man'? The fun of the Reading Room is that we've debated this moment in the book over and over again, in the course of our read-throughs over the past couple of decades, and only today have I heard the proposition that the Nazgul was paralyzed by Merry's attack, thanks to the plural form 'sinews' in the relevant sentence!

Tolkien spins a web of words, and his purpose and results are plain enough. His mechanisms do not always bear up well under a close and legalistic parsing.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Jan 10 2018, 5:00am

Post #28 of 30 (708 views)
Magic? [In reply to] Can't Post

As I have often posted,Tollers is vague about magic. I, for one, would not sulk if told, "No, no, you are all wrong!" But I try and put myself in the position of a disabled Rohirrrim watching that final confrontation, and being questioned later by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, saying, "Well, I really don't know, but give me anther mug of mead and I'll guess again..." Wink

We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior! Well, yeah, first he killed a bunch of us and another whole lot of Mauhr's lads, and we had to shoot enough arrows into him to drop a Mmak. But we got him!


Jan 10 2018, 1:47pm

Post #29 of 30 (692 views)
Magic isn't just vague in Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

It's more than that, I think. It's also deeply intuitive and seen through the eyes of the people who believe in it. There's nothing mechanistic about it, and I don't think there's much point worrying about details like 'sinew/sinews' (although for the record I pretty much agree with Squire's interpretation). The point is that this is Eowyn's great moment of triumph - a triumph of her own will, and love for her king, and her steadfastness even in the face of certain defeat (the greatest virtue of her people). And it's the Witch-King's moment of fear and uncertainty, brought about by two creatures apparently so much weaker than himself. He's not defeated by Merry's sword, or even by Eowyn's - he's defeated by his own sudden realization that he's not invincible after all. That's the magic that fails when he feels Merry's sword, I think. He behaved like a malicious and all-powerful bully because he thought no-one could touch him. But at the stroke of Merry's sword he stumbles before Eowyn and gives her the perfect moment to fulfill the prophecy that until that moment of realization he thought was his protection. I guess you could say that the 'magic' that bound his sinews is a metaphor for the (over-)confidence he had in his own power. So in that sense, Merry's stroke does make him more vulnerable to Eowyn. But Eowyn's reveal that she's a woman had already caused him to doubt:
the Black Captain, in doubt and malice intent upon the woman before him, heeded [Merry] no more than a worm in the mud.
and made it possible for Merry to get his stroke in. So Eowyn's courage is what gives Merry his chance, and his stroke allows her to finish the job. Very satisfying - psychologically true in a way that would still work even without any magic at all. That's what makes Tokien's 'magic' work for me - it's not about rules, it's about human belief and human doubt. Eowyn is the one here who shows true and unyielding courage. It inspires Merry to greater things than he thought he was capable of, and it inspires doubt and fear in her opponent who, like most bullies, crumbles when he realizes he's not untouchable after all. The 'magic' is in the service of this greater point, I think, rather than being something that can by analysed for its own sake.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings


Jan 10 2018, 5:34pm

Post #30 of 30 (677 views)
Well played! [In reply to] Can't Post

@FarFromHome: Tollers is rightly scornful of the "mere, mechanistic magician." The thing about the W-K falling "not by man's hand" was not a spell or enchantment, but an instance of foreknowledge and prophecy. His quietus was foreseen and described, quite accurately. As Gandalf would have it, a coincidence, as we often say in Middle-earth. Nice explication. Smile I fear I have played too much D&D, where a spell does exactly what the rulebook says it will do.

We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior! Well, yeah, first he killed a bunch of us and another whole lot of Mauhr's lads, and we had to shoot enough arrows into him to drop a Mmak. But we got him!

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